There is a trick reliably rolled out by bands when they’re both in trouble and in need of money. The problem might be that everyone in the band loathes each other, the lead singer’s having a breakdown, or any number of other issues – but there’s no new music coming, but one or more of them needs the cash. What to do?
Reliably, the band rolls out a greatest hits album of one sort or another – even if they’ve put out several in the years before. It’s re-treading the hits, jumbling the order a little, and throwing in just enough filler so that at least a few die hard fans might shell out yet again. Critics might note how it marks the creative death of the bands as artists, fans might feel disillusioned, but at least it brings in a few bob (or at least fulfils a contractual requirement).
There does not appear to be any real money behind the launch of the Popular Conservatism grouping, which happened on Tuesday morning. The same crowd of weary journalists, a few activists, and former Neighbours star (and brief pop sensation) Holly Vallance all trudged to a hall that has been used for multiple Tory launches already this year, to hear the same people make the same points in a slightly different order.
The not-so-supergroup of MPs, led by Liz Truss and Jacob Rees-Mogg, variously bemoaned wokeism, environmentalists, the UK supreme court, Davos, the media, the elite, transgender people, the private jet class (it’s not clear how many of these were direct digs at the current prime minister), the World Health Organisation, the European Court of Human Rights, and “international cabals and quangos”.
The rambling list of enemies resembled the contents of a Donald Trump rally delivered with all the vim and gusto of a Church of England sermon, at a volume that wouldn’t risk waking up any of the elderly parishioners. The bizarre spectacle of a recent prime minister and cabinet minister railing against elites while remaining the party in government might have been alarming, if it didn’t come across as just so damn whingey. “You won,” one is tempted to repeat. “Get over it.”
In political terms, it’s not clear at all what the Popular Conservatives want to do: the group’s head, Mark Littlewood (a Tufton street stalwart) says it wants to influence the Conservative manifesto, but such efforts rarely require rehashed public launches.
Perhaps the new grouping is an effort to mask the fact that every right-wing fringe Tory group is just a rehash of the same couple of dozen MPs. If they keep moving, perhaps no-one will spot that there’s so few of them.
Popular Conservatives might be the most ironically named of the new Tory “supergroups”, given that they’re neither popular nor conservative. On the latter, a weird quasi-populist rant against long standing British and global institutions with a role in propping up the rules-based international order, is clearly against small-c conservatism and its supposedly responsible approach.
But the fundamental issue is popularity: it would be enough here to simply flag that it was Liz Truss that keynoted this launch, but let’s do a little actual work. Poll after poll and focus group after focus group says the British public is united in their top two priorities – people want measures to help the cost of living, and they want public services to work better.
The Conservatives have, in the media, hammered on about any issue other than these, again and again – including most of the laundry list rolled out for this launch – and they continue to be twenty points behind in the polls.
Popular Conservatism is essentially trying to manifest a new reality into being: one in which their weird agenda is either of the things in its name. In other words, they’re trying to win a new fanbase with a rehashed album that’s never sold any copies the other times it’s been released. Sometimes, it’s time to break up.